I just had a chance to try out Apple’s new $159 AirPods, which are the company’s first truly wireless earbuds. They look… just like the old EarPods, with the wires cut off.
They sound fine, although it was hard to tell in the din of the event. Apple’s not making any big deal about redesigning the sound of them, so I would expect them to sound like the EarPods. The major thing is obviously that they’re wireless, which is interesting. Pairing was basically instant, although I heard one of the demo people tell another that it sometimes takes up to 10 seconds. You just flip the lid of the charging case up, and the iPhone slides up an AirPods screen that asks you to pair them (if it’s the first time you’ve used them) or if you want to connect (if you’ve already set them up). After the initial connection, it’s seamless — you just open the case, put them in, and go. The case has a Lightning port on the bottom for charging, with a built-in battery that can supply 25 hours of listening; the individual AirPods can run for up to five hours on a charge.
THESE THINGS JUST SCREAM OUT TO BE INSTANTLY LOST
They fit in my ears a little better than EarPods, but not by much — I jumped up and down and shook my head a bit and they felt snug, but I wouldn’t count on them staying in during any particularly dynamic activities. If you pull one out, the music automatically stops, which is cool — there are sensors that detect when they’re in your ears. Another sensor lets you activate Siri just by touching them, and built-in mics with noise cancellation enhance your voice for calls and voice control. It was super loud at the demo area, so this was hard to test — we’ll have to try again when it’s quieter.
And it just needs to be said: these things just scream out to be instantly lost. If you’re not the type to hold onto things (I’m certainly not), you’re going to want to stick with wired headphones or wireless cans.
THEY ARE CLASSIC APPLE DESIGN, SIMPLE AND WELL-INTEGRATED
Apple isn’t saying what exact wireless protocol the AirPods are using, just that they run on a new W1 wireless chip. But they’re compatible with the iPhone 5 and up, the iPad mini 2 and up, the Apple Watch Series 1, and Macs, so it seems like a software update will enable some sort of riff on Bluetooth that, you know, actually works.
Of course, none of this answers whether truly wireless earbuds like this can actually deliver enough value to make up for the removal of the headphone jack, but Apple is going for it here, and we’ll have to try these things out in a more real-world scenario to form some deeper thoughts. For now, they seem like classic Apple design — simple, and well-integrated into the the iPhone experience.